BEIJING/PYONGYANG: China said on Friday tension over North Korea had to be stopped from reaching an “irreversible and unmanageable stage” as a US aircraft carrier group steamed towards the region amid fears the North may conduct a sixth nuclear weapons test.
Concern has grown since the US Navy fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airfield last week in response to a deadly gas attack, raising questions about US President Donald Trump’s plans for North Korea, which has conducted missile and nuclear tests in defiance of UN and unilateral sanctions.
The United States has warned that a policy of “strategic patience” is over.
China, North Korea’s sole major ally and neighbour which nevertheless opposes its weapons programme, has called for talks leading to the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.
“We call on all parties to refrain from provoking and threatening each other, whether in words or actions, and not let the situation get to an irreversible and unmanageable stage,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters in Beijing.
North Korea denounced the United States for bringing “huge nuclear strategic assets” to the region as the Carl Vinson strike group with a flagship nuclear-powered aircraft carrier steamed closer, and said it stood ready to strike back.
“The Trump administration, which made a surprise guided cruise-missile strike on Syria on April 6, has entered the path of open threat and blackmail,” the North’s KCNA news agency quoted the military as saying in a statement.
Warning to Trump
“The army and people of the DPRK will as ever courageously counter those who encroach upon the dignity and sovereignty of the DPRK and will always mercilessly ravage all provocative options of the US with Korean-style toughest counteraction.”
DPRK stands for the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
North Korea, still technically at war with the South after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a treaty, has on occasion conducted missile or nuclear tests to coincide with big political events and often threatens the United States, South Korea and Japan.
On Saturday, it marks the “Day of the Sun”, the 105th anniversary of the birth of state founder Kim Il-sung.
US ally South Korea warned against any North Korean “provocation”, such as a nuclear or missile test.
“There is certain to be powerful punitive measure that will be difficult for the North Korean regime to endure,” the South’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
North Korea’s army on Friday vowed a ‘merciless’ response to any US provocation.
Pyongyang’s rogue atomic ambitions have come into sharp focus in recent weeks, with Trump vowing a tough stance against the North and threatening unilateral action if China failed to help curb its neighbour’s nuclear programme.
As hostilities in the region surge Trump has sent an aircraft carrier-led strike group to the Korean peninsula to press his point, while the North has launched a flurry of rockets.
Citing Washington’s recent missile strike on Syria, the typically bombastic statement boasted that US military bases in South Korea as well as Seoul’s presidential Blue House “would be pulverised within a few minutes”.
“The closer such big targets as nuclear powered aircraft carriers come (to the Korean peninsula), the greater would be the effect of merciless strikes,” the statement added.
Trump has repeatedly said he will prevent Pyongyang from its goal of developing a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile capable of reaching the mainland United States.
There are reports of activity at a nuclear test site in North Korea ahead of Saturday’s 105th anniversary of the birth of the country’s founder Kim Il-sung, fuelling speculation it could carry out a sixth test.